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COVID-19 Update: Requiring Booster Vaccination

December 29, 2021

To the Saint Louis University community, 

We write today to inform you that the University will require all students, faculty and staff to obtain a booster vaccine dose for the spring semester. We’ll now explain why and details of the new policy. 

As many of you have probably heard, the Omicron variant has hit St. Louis and almost all of the U.S. Within one week, it went from representing only 10% of circulating variants in the U.S. to nearly 60%. It will soon account for more than 90% of all circulating variants in the U.S. 

Omicron has a different transmission and disease pattern than we have seen with other COVID variants, including the Delta variant. Omicron appears to be as contagious as measles, the most easily spread infectious disease. The silver lining, if there is one, is that preliminary data indicates that Omicron results in milder disease than the Delta variant, especially among those who are vaccinated breakthrough cases. Scientists are monitoring the situation closely, as are we.

Though it appears that Omicron might result in less severe disease than Delta, it is still critical that we try to prevent disease spread. The more cases in a community, the higher likelihood of infecting people at risk for more severe disease or death.

Like Delta, Omicron is ravaging our unvaccinated population. St. Louis and other parts of the country where Omicron is rampant are seeing more daily COVID infections than at any time in the pandemic. And once again, hospitals are canceling elective surgeries to have enough intensive care beds available for unvaccinated people infected by Omicron.

Omicron is already having a huge impact on the St. Louis region, as you can see on the COVID-19 dashboards for St. Louis City and St. Louis County. And local public health officials indicate that it will get worse before it gets better. They do not expect to see a decrease in infection rates before late January. You will not be returning to the same campus and city as when you left for winter break.

Early studies indicate that vaccination protection against the Delta and Omicron variants decreases over time, just as immunity wanes after a COVID-19 infection. Preliminary data on the Omicron variant indicates that a booster dose of vaccine is more effective at preventing infection than simply being vaccinated with the one- or two-dose regimen. 

We are requiring that you get a booster dose 

To best ensure we can return to campus in mid-January and remain on campus as the Omicron variant wave rolls across our city, region, and nation, we are requiring the booster dose for all eligible students, staff, and faculty who live, study, research, work or mission on our St. Louis campuses. Those eligible include: 

Students and SLUCare employees are required to have obtained their booster dose by Monday, January 31, though we highly encourage you to get the booster dose as soon as you can. This will help protect you from infection and prevent the need for you to quarantine after exposure.

Non-SLUCare faculty and staff will have until Monday, February 28, to get their booster dose.  

Previous or recent infection with COVID-19 does not exclude you from our new booster dose requirement.

Those who received an approved vaccine exemption for the fall semester will not be required to apply for a new exemption for the spring semester. Those who believe their situation has changed and would like to apply for a booster dose exemption may do so. More details on this will be provided in the next week. 

If you can, please get your booster dose before returning to campus 

Please don’t wait. Please get your booster dose now in the town or city where you are staying over winter break. You can find a community vaccination clinic here

The safest way for us to reopen campus is to have as many students and employees as possible who have received their booster dose at least two weeks prior to their return. Breakthrough cases are possible with Omicron, even for those who have received a booster dose, but the breakthrough rate is believed to be significantly lower among those who received a booster dose compared to those who received the original one- or two-dose regimen.

Plus, getting your booster dose at least two weeks before returning to campus minimizes your risk of ending up in quarantine. New guidelines from the CDC indicate that non-healthcare individuals who are eligible for a booster dose, but have not received it, must quarantine for at least 5 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19.

Please hold on submitting proof of your booster dose 

We are in the process of updating our vaccination portal to allow reporting of booster doses. So, you’re not able to submit proof of your booster dose just yet. 

Please be patient as we work with our ITS team to put this into place. We will let you know when the portal is open for submission of booster dose vaccination proof.

A booster dose plus face masks for the spring semester  

Throughout the two-plus years of this pandemic, scientists have worked to quickly understand how this disease is transmitted, which safeguards protect against spread, and to develop new vaccines and medications to prevent and cure this disease. 

The science continues to evolve just as the virus has mutated and evolved. As a university, we have adjusted our protocols when science indicates that it’s needed. We opened and stayed open successfully when many universities were forced online. We invested resources in a comprehensive response plan and relied on our community members to be compliant with our protocols, and this has served us well. 

Science tells us what is working to prevent infection and stop the spread of this disease: Receiving a booster dose of vaccine, wearing a tight-fitting and multi-layer face mask, and limiting our social interactions that take place in indoor crowded spaces that have poor ventilation.

As tired as we all are of wearing them, face masks continue to be an essential safeguard against disease transmission, especially when paired with vaccines. Please be vigilant about wearing your face mask when around those outside of your household. To be even more protective: tighten up and double up your face mask(s).

Possible expanded COVID safeguards for the spring semester 

As we stated in our Dec 22nd message, our team has been having discussions about contingency plans for ways to keep campus safe and as open as possible this spring. Requiring the booster dose for all eligible students and employees is just one such safeguard.

It is our hope that requiring the booster dose and having a large number of community members receive it at least two weeks prior to returning to campus will limit the other restrictions we need to have in place in spring and allow us to remain open.

Considering the harm the Omicron virus may inflict on at-risk members of our University community — people who are immunocompromised or have severe chronic ailments such as diabetes, heart or respiratory disease — more robust public health protocols may be required of unvaccinated persons in the coming weeks.

As always, our plans remain flexible as we learn more about this evolving situation.

If you have any questions, please email us at pandemic@slu.edu

Stay safe and be well,

Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., RN, CIC, FAPIC 
Special Assistant to the President 
Director, Institute for Biosecurity 
Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics 
College for Public Health and Social Justice